Iranian Mirrorwork: Contemporary and Historical

Two years ago, I traveled through Iran for 10 days, and parts of the trip still jump out at me at unexpected moments. I recently visited “Infinite Possibility,” a retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum of the work of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, a distinguished artist with a career spanning over 50 years and the first Iranian artist to be featured at the Guggenheim. When I arrived and I gazed into one of her shimmering wall-mountedsculptures, I had an irresistible flashback.

During the trip, we visited a palace in Tehran whose walls were encrusted with carefully cut shards of glass arranged in geometric mosaic patterns–I believe it was Reza Pahlavi Palace. The sumptuous room seemed to glow with reflected light. According to the tour guide, legend had it that one of the Shahs in history had tasked a functionary to safely transport several giant mirrors to be installed in this palace, or, of course, risk execution. Inevitably, in the course of the journey he broke the mirrors. Thinking quickly, he installed the shards of glass in as a mosaic on the walls of the palace. The Shah liked it, the functionary kept his head, and mirrorwork decor became a staple of Iranian decor and art.

During the rest of my trip in Iran, I saw several other mosques and palaces whose walls were decorated with this kind of stunning geometric mirrorwork. In some cases, mirror mosaics stood side-by-side with brilliant stained glass windows, to marvelous and luminous effect.

Farmanfarmaian’s work is a sleek, contemporary continuation of that rich tradition of aineh-kari, “mirror mosaics,” in Iranian artistry. See for yourself–in the gallery above I interspersed photos of Farmanfarmaian’s pieces with photos I took in Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan. For more about Monir and the historical and contemporary context of her very impressive mirror mosaics, the Guardian has an excellent piece here.

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